West News Wire: A New York judge has mandated that the real estate firm bearing former President Donald Trump’s name pay a $1.6 million criminal fine after it was found guilty of 15 years of tax fraud scheme.
After two Trump Organization affiliates were found guilty of 17 felony offenses, including conspiracy and fabricating corporate documents, by a jury last month, Justice Juan Merchan of the Manhattan criminal court handed down the sentence on Friday.
For a scheme in which the former president’s senior executives avoided paying personal income taxes while receiving generous benefits, the judge could only impose the maximum penalty, which was a symbolic and scarcely financially debilitating blow for a company with billions of dollars in assets.
Trump denied knowing about his executives’ tax evasion and was not being tried.
While the fine less than the cost of a Trump Tower apartment isn’t big enough to impact the company’s operations or future, the conviction is a black mark on the Republican’s reputation as a savvy businessman as he mounts a campaign to regain the White House.
Neither the former president nor his children, who have helped run and promote the Trump Organization, were in the courtroom for the sentencing.
Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said the fine constitutes “a fraction of the revenue” of the Trump Organization and that the scheme was “far-reaching and brazen”.
“All of these corrupt practices were part of the Trump Organization executive compensation package, and it was certainly cheaper than paying higher salaries to those executives,” he said.
Because the Trump Organization is a corporation and not a person, a fine is the only way a judge may punish the company. The maximum penalty that Merchan was able to impose was double the taxes a small group of executives avoided paying on benefits that included rent-free apartments in Trump buildings, luxury cars and private school tuition.
Besides the company, only one executive was charged in the case: former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in August to evading taxes on $1.7m in compensation. He was sentenced Tuesday to five months in jail.
Trump has said the case against his company was part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” waged against him by vindictive Democrats. The company’s lawyers have promised to appeal the verdict.
The case involved financial practices and pay arrangements that the company halted when Trump was elected president in 2016.
Over his years as the company’s chief moneyman, Weisselberg had received a rent-free apartment in a Trump-branded building in Manhattan with a view of the Hudson River. He and his wife drove Mercedes-Benz cars leased by the company, and when his grandchildren went to an exclusive private school, Trump paid their tuition.
Trump faces several other legal challenges as he looks to win the 2024 presidential election.
A special grand jury in Atlanta has investigated whether Trump and his allies committed any crimes while trying to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia.
Last month, a House committee voted to make a criminal referral to the Department of Justice over Trump’s role in sparking a violent insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. The FBI is also investigating Trump’s storage of classified documents.